Good balance equals a better brain

good balance for brain health

Do you wobble if you stand on one foot? How about with your eyes closed? If you walk in a straight heel-to-toe line do you stumble? How about with your eyes closed? If you stand with your feet together and close your eyes do you sway to one side? Do you walk with a wide gait, or feel like you’re going to fall if you don’t hold the handrail going down the stairs? If you answered yes to any of these questions you have balance issues that could be a sign of compromised brain health and increased risk of dementia later in life.

Balance is governed largely by the cerebellum, the area at the base of the brain that also helps with precision, coordination, and timing of motor movements. The cerebellum is one of the most continually active areas of the brain because not only does it keep you from falling over, it also processes information from gravity.

A healthy cerebellum is important because it constantly feeds a steady stream of information to the entire brain, which is necessary for overall good brain health and function.

This is where problems can occur. When cerebellum function begins to break down, causing such symptoms as worsening balance, this impacts the stream of information going to the rest of the brain. For instance, a healthy cerebellum regulates this stream of information so as not to flood the brain. When the cerebellum degenerates, it can overwhelm the brain with excess input.

This can cause problems in other areas of the brain with symptoms that may seem totally unrelated to balance, including restless leg syndrome, tinnitus, being hyper sensitive to stress, depression, fatigue, anxiety, and many more. These are signs the brain is functioning poorly and degenerating too quickly, increasing the risk of dementia or Parkinson’s later in life.

You’re never too young or too fit to work on improving your balance as it’s a great way to help protect and preserve brain health.

How to improve your cerebellum health

There are several ways to protect the health of your cerebellum. One is to perform balance exercises, such as the ones listed in the first paragraph. Yoga and tai chi are also beneficial. As your balance improves or if you are already athletic, continually challenge yourself, such as by doing your balance exercises on a wobble board or Bosu ball. Just be safe!

Screen for gluten sensitivity. Believe it or not, a gluten sensitivity could be destroying your cerebellum and your balance. The proteins in gluten are very similar in structure to those in the cerebellum. If your immune system is attacking gluten every time you eat because you are sensitive to it, it could be attacking your cerebellum as well. This is called gluten ataxia and is actually pretty common. For some people, a gluten-free diet is imperative to restoring their cerebellum and balance.

Follow an anti-inflammatory diet and lifestyle. The brain is very sensitive to inflammation, including the cerebellum. Junk foods, sugars and processed carbohydrates, lack of sleep, too much stress, lack of exercise — these are all factors that can accelerate degeneration in the cerebellum and the rest of the brain.

Ask my office for more advice on how to protect your brain health.

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Fruit juices and smoothies not much better than soda

fruit juice harmful

You’re eating healthy by opting for fruit juice and fruit smoothies over soda, right? Wrong, unfortunately. These more natural alternatives are still loaded with excess sugar and high in fructose, creating largely the same health risks as drinking sugary sodas. That Coke and Pepsi have bought dozens of fruit juice and smoothie brands is testament to the dubious health claims of these products. When studies linking sodas with obesity and diabetes hit the media, these companies began touting fruit-based beverages as an alternative.

Fruit juice not the way to meet daily produce requirements

Bottled fruit juice and smoothie sell themselves as a way to meet your daily requirements for fruit. But these drinks do not fill you up the way eating a whole piece of fruit does, and they bombard your bloodstream with more sugar than the human body was meant to handle. A smoothie can have the same amount of sugar as a large soda. It doesn’t matter if the sugar is “natural” — the impacts are deleterious regardless the source. Ongoing studies on fruit juices and smoothies show they cause the same problems with weight gain and diabetes as sodas.

Fruit sugar linked with modern health diseases

High intake of fructose has been linked with weight gain, high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease, elevated triglycerides and LDL, and type 2 diabetes. One study showed subjects who consumed high levels of fructose over 10 weeks developed new fat cells around their organs and had problems assimilating nutrients. Subjects given glucose instead of fructose did not suffer the same consequences. This is because the body metabolizes glucose differently and with less burden to the liver. Also, glucose is utilized by the body more rapidly while fructose is converted to fatty acids for storage.

If your only fructose came from whole fruits and vegetables, you would consume about 15 grams a day. You would also receive fiber, minerals, enzymes, and healthful phytochemicals –- nutritionists recommend 28 to 35 grams a day of fiber. Unfortunately, the average teen today consumes more than 70 grams of fructose a day through fructose-sweetened drinks. Research shows those who drink fruit juice two or more times a week are almost 30 percent more likely to develop diabetes than those who don’t consume it. This is not far behind the 40 percent higher risk for soda drinkers.

Smoothies are slightly better because they also include the fiber, however they are still high, sometimes to a staggering degree, in calories and grams of sugar. Also, experts say that because smoothies don’t need to be chewed, the brain doesn’t receive signals that you’ve eaten. Studies show chewing leads to eating fewer calories.

Safely including fructose in your diet

This doesn’t mean you have to give up fruit completely, you just have to be sensible with your fruit intake. Skip the juiced and processed fruits and eat whole fruits instead, chewing thoroughly. If you love your smoothies, try vegetable smoothies that use a modest amount of fruit to make them more palatable.

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What your feet say about your brain

healthy feet healthy brain

Although they’re located at the farthest distance from your brain, the health of your feet can give you clues about the health of your brain, mainly whether your brain is receiving enough oxygen. When circulation to the feet is poor, creating a variety of symptoms discussed below, this is a red flag circulation to the brain is compromised as well. Just because you can breathe doesn’t mean your brain is getting enough oxygen.

If your brain is not getting enough oxygen it won’t function well. You may notice brain fog, declining memory, that you tire more easily, and that it is harder to learn new things. Depression is another common symptom. Poor brain oxygen is a serious matter because it accelerates degeneration of your brain—vascular dementia from lack of blood flow to the brain is the second most common type of dementia after Alzheimer’s.

Feet symptoms that could point to problems in your brain

Cold toes and feet. If your feet and toes are colder than your ankles or calves, this means circulation is poor to your feet, and hence to your brain. It’s hard to measure your own skin temperature so have someone else compare the temperature of your calves and ankles with that of your feet and toes. If the feet and toes are colder than your ankles and calves this means your circulation to the furthermost regions of your body is compromised. Cold fingers and a cold nose are common too.

Chronic fungal growth in toenails

Do you have chronic fungal nail infections, or chronic athlete’s foot? When circulation is poor the blood is not able to carry oxygen, immune cells, and nutrients to the feet to keep them healthy. As a result, infections can take root and be difficult to impossible to banish while circulation is poor. General nail health will also be poor. This is a sign circulation in your brain is also compromised.

White nail beds; poor capillary refill time

The nail beds of your toes should be a healthy pink color. If they are pale or white this is another symptom of poor circulation. Also, when you press down on a nail bed it turns white, but the pink color should return instantly. If it takes a few seconds for the color to return, this means blood flow to the nails is poor, as is blood flow to the brain.

Foot cramps

Sometimes people with poor circulation get foot cramps that seem impossible to relieve. This is because there is not enough blood and oxygen flowing to the muscles in the feet. They may also get cramps in their hands. Again, these are signs blood flow to the brain may be poor.

How to restore blood flow to your feet and your brain

It’s important to rule out a health condition that can cause poor blood flow to your feet, such as hypothyroidism, anemia, a heart condition, diabetes, or low blood pressure. Normal blood pressure is considered 120/80. If either number is 10 or more points below that it means blood is not getting pushed into these more distant capillaries of the feet and brain. People with low blood pressure typically also have low blood sugar (reactive hypoglycemia) and adrenal fatigue, a condition in which their stress response system is worn out.

It’s important to stabilize blood sugar by avoiding sugars and processed carbohydrates and not skipping meals. Exercise is great for increasing circulation, especially short bursts of high-intensity exercise. Also, a variety of nutritional compounds can support blood flow to your feet and your brain. Ask my office for advice and check out the book Why Isn’t My Brain Working?

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How to prevent autoimmune flare-ups while traveling

autoimmune diet while traveling

Managing your autoimmune condition—Hashimoto’s hypothyroidism, type 1 diabetes, alopecia, vitiligo, psoriasis, etc.—can be tricky enough. Traveling takes autoimmune management to a new level as you must attend to not only your diet, environment, energy expenditure, and sleep, but also the added stressors traveling poses.

Managing an autoimmune condition doesn’t mean you have to avoid travel. It’s just a matter of planning ahead and being more conscious of your self-care. By mastering some basics you can relax and enjoy your trip and quickly return to your routine at home without a long recovery period.

Below are some tips to help you keep your autoimmune condition under control while traveling.

Plan where and what you’re going to eat. Foundational to autoimmune management is the autoimmune diet, also known as the leaky gut diet. This diet, which is free of common immune triggers, is great for keeping your autoimmune condition under control, but without advance planning it can be tough to follow.

It’s important you determine ahead of time where at your destination you can safely eat. For instance, find out where the Whole Foods or other health food stores are at your destination. Make sure you have a refrigerator in your hotel room. Some people even pack a mini crockpot to heat up frozen stews they packed, or a hot plate and a frying pan for a stir-fry meal with fresh ingredients. Pack snack foods for when you can’t eat right away so hunger doesn’t trample your willpower. Ideas include beef jerky, celery, sardines, olives, coconut meat, and other filling snacks.

Load up on glutathione. Travel has many stressors—early mornings, long days, new environments, crowded airplanes, and so on. These stressors can deplete your stores of glutathione, the body’s main antioxidant that keeps inflammation and autoimmune flare-ups at bay. Glutathione can also offer protection from increased exposure to radiation through flying at high altitudes. And although officials claim the new radio-frequency body scanners at airports are safe, a group of university scientists have doubts and are demanding more thorough testing. Some people feel choosing a pat down is a healthier option than the scanner. Glutathione precursors, such as N-acetyl-cysteine, alpha-lipoic acid, cordyceps, and milk thistle, can be supplemented orally, or you can use a transdermal glutathione cream.

Look for chemical-free hotel rooms. Some hotel rooms hit you with a synthetic-scent overload when you walk through the door. Feather pillows, dust, and stale air can also set off immune reactions. Fortunately, some hotels offer scent-free allergy-friendly rooms with hypoallergenic bedding, air purifiers, fragrance-free bath products, and windows that open.

Keep a mask with you. Sometimes you just can’t avoid toxic exposure, whether it’s from exhaust, perfumes, or the person next to you on the plane sneezing and coughing. It’s becoming more common to see people wearing a face mask when flying, and it’s not a bad idea to carry one. A good face mask is comfortable and allows you to breathe easily while helping protect you from toxins and other pathogens in the air, preventing an autoimmune flare-up and glutathione depletion. Some companies even make face masks in a variety of colors and prints and for children and babies.

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Six interesting and healthy ways to enjoy pumpkin this season

326 healthy pumpkin recipes

Tis the pumpkin season, which for most people conjures images of pumpkin lattes, pumpkin pie, and pumpkin cookies. However, this colorful, nutritious, and affordable squash does not have to be relegated to the dessert table or Starbucks drive-through. There are plenty of ways to enjoy the pumpkin’s bounty without spiking your blood sugar and loading up on calories.

Pumpkin soup

Pumpkin makes a great addition to soup, whether in chunks or as a puree. You can make a pumpkin puree soup with homemade chicken broth and coconut milk and seasoned with ginger, cloves, sage, and salt. For a finishing touch, add in chopped bacon bits. Or make a soup with chopped pumpkin and other veggies and meats.

Pumpkin bowl chili or stew

For this recipe, make your favorite chili or stew recipe and serve it inside a small, roasted pumpkin or squash. To roast your whole pumpkin, cut off the top, scoop out the insides, and place in a pan with a half inch of water and bake at 375 degrees for about 30 minutes or until soft. The sweetness of the pumpkin flesh is a nice complement to a spicy chili or stew.

Grain-free pumpkin pancakes

Pancakes are a versatile breakfast option because they are easy to make without grains. Pumpkin pancakes bring a new level of flavor and moistness. Use coconut flour and add pumpkin puree, vanilla, and pumpkin pie spices to make grain-free pumpkins reminiscent of pumpkin pie.

Pumpkin seeds

When roasted and seasoned, pumpkin seeds make a great snack that is healthy, filling, and high in fiber. Separate out the pumpkin seeds in a colander under running water, simmer in salted boiling water for 10 minutes, add oil and seasoning, and roast at 400 degrees on the top rack for five to 20 minutes, or until browned. You can choose from a large variety of ways to flavor your pumpkin seeds, either sweet or savory.

Pumpkin pie protein shake

This novel recipe gives you a pumpkin-pie approach to your protein shake. Use your favorite protein powder or gelatin and blend with almond or coconut milk, fresh or canned pumpkin, cinnamon, ginger, pumpkin pie spice, ice cubes, and a banana if desired for sweetness (or use frozen banana chunks in place of ice).

Pumpkin latte

Although it might be hard to compete with a Starbucks pumpkin latte, you can certainly do better in terms of sugar content. Most health-friendly versions call for brewed coffee, coconut milk, pumpkin puree, pumpkin spices, and the natural sweetener of your choice.

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Study shows desserts and processed carbs really are addictive

processed carbs addictive

Scientists may have confirmed what millions of us could have already told you: One cookie is too many and 20 are not enough. Many people have found they can go along comfortably on a diet free of sweets, pastries, and desserts until they have that one bite. Then—zing!—the addiction sets in and you feel like you might die if you don’t eat more. Turns out you’re not weak or gluttonous, it’s just your brain responding to the highly pleasurable and stimulating effect of cookies, cake, chips, and candy as if they were powerful drugs (which, really, they are). It’s no mystery why they’re also referred to as comfort foods.

These processed carbohydrates appeal to the same parts of the brain involved in substance abuse and addiction, as anyone with a carb addiction can tell you. A major player in addiction is the neurotransmitter dopamine, which gives us the feeling of reward and pleasure associated with activities that can be addictive. For instance, drug use, smoking, and gambling all release dopamine. In rat studies, rats given the option of pressing a lever that stimulates dopamine’s pleasurable effects or a lever for food chose the dopamine to their death.

In the recent study, researchers gave two groups of overweight men a milkshake. One group’s milkshake was higher on the glycemic index than the other group’s. This means it was sweeter and more processed, causing blood sugar to rise more quickly and then crash. Then four hours later researchers scanned the brains of both groups using an MRI.

The men receiving the high-glycemic milkshake felt excessively hungry and scans revealed intense activation in the area of the brain involved in addiction. These brain changes can trigger overeating.

Avoid high-glycemic foods

Avoiding triggering the pleasure centers of your brain with food is one of your most powerful allies in healthier eating and weight loss. Eating a whole foods diet that is satiating and prevents hunger is key to curbing cravings and taming carb addiction. This means including healthy proteins and fats to stabilize your blood sugar and sustain your energy, as well as plenty of vegetables for the fiber, which also helps keep your energy on an even keel.

The glycemic index measures how quickly foods become glucose after you eat them. The glycemic load factors in the amount of the carbohydrate eaten. So although a piece of candy has a high glycemic index, the glycemic load might be small if you eat a very small piece.

High-glycemic foods that can trigger carb addiction include:

  • White potato
  • White rice
  • White bread, bagels, muffins, rolls, etc
  • Pastries, cake, cookies, etc.
  • Breakfast cereal
  • Popcorn
  • Dried fruit
  • Ripe banana
  • Soft drinks
  • Fruit juice
  • Pizza
  • Candy bars

Ask my office for more strategies on how to turn off carb addiction in your brain.

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Why menopause and midlife can cause sleep apnea

326 menopause causes sleep apnea

We commonly think of sleep apnea as being caused by obesity or structural problems. However, in women the transition into menopause can contribute to sleep apnea too. When estrogen is low, the brain fails to signal the palate and tongue to retain its tone during sleep. As a result they over relax and block the airway.

Female hormones play a role in sleep

The hormonal factors that contribute to sleep apnea are different in women than in men. In a study involving rats, researchers discovered that young male rats respond to normal episodes of hypoxia, or brief periods of oxygen deprivation, during sleep by increasing brain activity to take deeper and more frequent breaths. The older male rats did not have the same response.

But when scientists looked at female rats they discovered they reacted much differently to these hypoxic episodes. For instance, older female rats had a more positive response to oxygen deprivation than the older males. That response was even better during certain stages of the menstrual cycle in younger female rats, suggesting female hormones play a role in the response to hypoxia during sleep.

This could help explain why many women begin to experience sleep problems during perimenopause (pre-menopause) and menopause, when estrogen production begins to decline. Estrogen influences serotonin, an important brain chemical that transmits signals, including to the tongue and palate.

To test the theory, researchers removed the ovaries from female rats, inducing estrogen deficiency and menopause. They found less serotonin in the region of the brain controlling the tongue, which compromised the female rats’ ability to respond to hypoxia during sleep. The lack of estrogen affected the brain function involved in breathing. This is consistent with evidence that shows the incidence of sleep apnea increases in women during midlife.

The rate of sleep apnea also increases in midlife for men, as declining testosterone results in worse brain coordination for sleep. This helps explain why many people start snoring as they get older.

Middle-aged men tend to snore more and experience the cessation of breathing during sleep. Middle-aged women, however, more commonly complain of insomnia, headache, fatigue, and irritability related to poor sleep. That estrogen deficiency promotes weight gain only compounds the problem of sleep apnea. Estrogen deficiency can also play a role in restless leg syndrome.

When estrogen begins to decline in women, the adrenal glands ideally take over the production of estrogen. The adrenal glands sit atop the kidneys and regulate the body’s response to stress. Stressful lifestyles, processed foods, high sugar intake, and other factors of modern life leave many women entering midlife with poor adrenal function. As a result, estrogen levels may drop too low during perimenopause and menopause. Estrogen is vital for all aspects of a woman’s health, including that of her brain, bones, immune system, and ability to sleep well. Adopting a whole foods diet free of processed carbohydrates and supporting adrenal health are some strategies to support estrogen levels.

For more information on supporting hormone levels and proper sleep, contact my office.

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